Mobile operator Cell C plans to launch Wi-Fi calling on its network at the end of July or beginning of August this year. Wi-Fi calling allows consumers to make calls using their mobile phone at regular mobile phone rates when connected to Wi-Fi, regardless of their connection to the mobile network itself. Think of it as Wi-Fi handoff, rather than voice-over IP (VoIP).
Why does this matter? First, Wi-Fi calling has the potential to make problems like limited coverage in buildings a thing of the past, and second, it means Cell C customers with handsets that support Wi-Fi calling will be able to keep their international roaming charges to a minimum when travelling — any call placed while connected to Wi-Fi will cost the same as it would if made from South Africa.
While better indoor coverage will have plenty of people cheering — no more leaning out the office window for signal — making international roaming largely redundant is bad news for the range of third-party apps like RingCredible and Roamer, and companies like KnowRoaming, all of whom offer various international-roaming workarounds, for a fee.
Wi-Fi calling is already offered by the likes of T-Mobile in the US and EE in the UK. Cell C looks set to be the first South African operator to offer the service… unless of course Vodacom or MTN pips it to the post, like Vodacom did when it beat MTN to rolling out commercial LTE services despite MTN having had a test network up and running for months beforehand.
And while we’re talking about LTE, Cell C says it is spending R8 billion on its LTE rollout plans. Though it hasn’t given a fixed date for when it’s LTE network will go live, it says it plans to have 1 000 LTE-enabled sites up before November this year, with 3 000 additional sites to follow thereafter. Every site will be connected with fibre, and the initial focus will be on metropolitan areas.